The beginning of the movie begins with all the innocent of the kingdom sacrificing themselves to save Snow White–the maiden the queen drains, the white horse, the scarred women and girls in their village. Not only is the same scene played out over and over, but the number of innocents dying because of Snow White herself was getting disturbingly high.
The forest in most fairytales is the dark, shadowy frightening place, enemy of civilization. However, since civilization, power, and authority are the queen’s domain, Snow White must channel the wild, foreboding power of the forest. In fact, if the civilized world of law and order is the masculine sphere (as it is traditionally), Snow White is connecting with the wild, mysterious, unexplored feminine sphere of nature and its wild magic. When she meets the forest troll, who submits to her and departs, it’s clear that Snow White has power over the forest.
Like Voldemort, the queen snatchers the magic of people’s blood, trying to capture the love, innocence, and life their youth and beauty offers, but without understanding. The devourer of life, slayer of the innocent is the classic villainess on the heroine’s journey, like the Wicked Witch of the West or ice queen of Narnia. Her minions are lifeless monsters, reflections on her inhuman self. Snow White connects with the innocent, as we see her playing with a child and her doll, or speaking with the seven dwarves. Like Harry Potter, Snow White has power from her birthright and the blood of her parent. the ancient theme of the true ruler healing and renewing the land, which suffers under the tyrant comes into play here.
The fairy sanctuary represents the beautiful magical feminine–Snow White can reach it but the queen cannot. There Snow White, like Harry Potter (in the final book) meets the magical white stag, conferrer of spirituality. Following this, Harry descends into the pool and emerges with the Sword of Gryffindor. Snow White sinks into sleep and awakes stronger than before. Both rise and lead an attack on their ultimate enemies. Ending the story with no wedding to either prince or huntsman feels odd for the fairytale and odd for a story of reviving the realm through life and fertility (contrasting this tale with, say Aragorn’s wedding at the end of Lord of the Rings, another story of the rightful king reviving the land). But there is a reason for this ambiguous ending, found in a recent movie with a similar series of events:
There are some interesting parallels with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland—both heroines travel through the frightening woods to reach the sheltering fairy garden of femininity, growing in feminine perception and strength all the while. However, after this, both don concealing, featureless armor and ride to battle, switching from the heroine’s journey of perception and saving the innocent to the hero’s journey of conquest and battle. Both heroines end the tale winning power in the male world of power and rationality, but little feminine understanding, demonstrated most strongly by the fact that neither weds. Before they can commit to another person, both must discover who they are as women, something not to be found under their smooth armor.
The classic warrior woman’s quest involves winning this armored battle and conquering the male realm, and then setting out once more to understand femininity, as Eowyn does in the House of Healing, or Buffy does in the later seasons (discussed in my book Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey). Without this, the warrior woman has indeed closed herself off in armor, becoming a conquering hero but not a balanced woman.
In a world of “strong women” like those in The Hunger Games and Brave, it’s important not to show only the one path to power—strong women fight and don’t want a man and all others are weak victims is a problematic message appearing in increasingly more of the movie industry. The scarred victimized women with their little girls and the young woman drained by the queen are sad sacrifices, with their courage downplayed in the movie. Snow Whtie is a fighter—she lives, the others, like her own sweet mother, die. Buffy, with a warrior woman and her friends who are witches, researchers, and vengeance demons shows alternate paths to power, as do many great fantasy novels. Here’s hoping the movies can catch up.